Part Two: Topography Maps
Aerial Photos are great for visually seeing what the habitat and surrounds look like on a new piece of ground your are thinking about hunting. But when it comes to finding those key terrain features that whitetails tend to travel, Topography maps are the answer. We will cover my top three features that I look for on any topo map, which are: Benches, Flats, and Saddles.
Let us dig a little deeper into the feature of a BENCH. What I classify as a Bench is that area on a map that you see a greater distance between elevation changes on a hillside. Making this an area where the elevation change has been spread out over a greater distance and in turn made a eaiser path of travel. A lot of times these benches will be littered with rub/scrape lines. Though I am not a big fan of hunting rub lines, these benches give you a great starting point to start to pattern deer movement. Just like I stated in Part One, aerial and topo map go hand in hand. So once you locate a bench on the topo look over at your aerial and see if you see any key aerial features we talked about earlier that intersect or relevantly close to the bench. For example, I located my bench and I look back at my aerial and there is a thick area (possible bedding) located on the uphill side of the bench. This would be a great stand location for the rut, when bucks are out checking for a hot doe.
Next up we have a hilltop FLAT. These flats are normally found at the end of a ridge top and often times have a very extreme elevation change at their very tip, making for an excellent barrier to prevent deer from traveling. Flats are easily seen in most areas with rolling hills to steep mountain terrain Locate them by following a ridge top out until it has reached an area on the map that the elevation lines seem to have stopped for a moment only to pick pack up further down the ridge. But do not get these confused with a bench, although benches tend to feed right into these hilltop flats. Flats are excellent for catching a buck crusing through during the rut, but I look for flats that are filled with White Oaks. When you are able to find a White Oak Flat in the middle of hill country, this area becomes a whitetail feed lot and a must for early season.
The two features mentioned above are great, but as always you save the best for last. The number one feature I look for when hunting a new piece of ground are SADDLES. Over the years most of my success in bow hunting has come from locating and hunting saddles. Saddles can range in size but no matter the size, they still serve the same purpose allowing whitetails the easiest route of travel from one side of the hill to the other. Saddles can be easily overlooked the first few time you look a topo map, but after locating and hunting one they will be the first terrain feature you will spot when you pick up a topo map, because this area is such a hot spot for intercepting deer and more especial bucks.
I really hope you take the time to study these two articles, more especially the photos indicating what features to look for on both aerial and topo maps. Because once you add these two weapons to your arsenal, hunting new ground will become more enjoyable and get you out into areas you may have never gone before. But remember, it is still hunting and with out time, patients and a whole lot of luck the elusive whitetail may still elude you.